A couple of weeks ago, Google opened the doors (in a limited kind of a way) to their latest project: Google+. A new social networking site, apparently, although Google managed to avoid using those words in their official announcement of the project. Following on from the failures of Buzz and Wave, is this new project finally going to bring Google success in the social networking field? And more importantly, should you be using it?
I managed to grab a Google+ invite very soon after the doors opened, thanks to the lovely Kat4PR, and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting the hang of it and interacting with others on it. And my initial impressions are good. Very good. It’s like a cross between Facebook and Twitter, taking good aspects of both and building on them. When I first logged in to Google plus it struck me as looking very Facebook-like, with a stream view that looks much like your Facebook wall. Then as I started using it I realised that it has similarities to Twitter as well. You can broadcast your updates publicly, rather than having them limited to just your friends. And now I’ve used Google+ for a little while I can confidently say it’s not Twitter or Facebook, it’s different.
Here are the key differences:
- Fine control over access to your content. Google+ has the concept of “circles”, which are ways of grouping people you follow together, much like lists in Twitter. However unlike Twitter you can use your circles to control access to your updates, as well as grouping your incoming messages, just like groups in Facebook. Every time you post anything to Google+ you choose which of your circles to share with, and you can choose one of them, all of them, or even “public” if you want no control over who reads your content. It feels very natural, and very easy to use
- Google +1 integration. Google also recently introduced their “+1” system, which you’ll see popping up on web pages all over the Internet. It’s their equivalent of the Facebook “Like” button. You can see one at the top of this post (and if you like this post, please press it!). It doesn’t yet highlight to Google+ whenever your friends “+1” something, but I did notice when I did a Google search for something the other day it showed me which results had been “+1”-ed by one of my Google+ friends.
- Hangouts. This is the ability to connect up to 10 friends in a video chat. I haven’t managed to test this yet, as, believe it or not, I don’t have a webcam! Something I intend to rectify as soon as possible. However the geekdaddy has joined several Hangouts, and even hosted his own, and says they work very nicely. I’m always on the lookout for ways new technology could be used by parents or families, and this one has huge potential – if your family or friends are spread far and wide it’s a way to bring you all closer together.
- Sparks. Google want to make it easy for you to find and share new content on Google+. So they’ve introduced Sparks, which are a way of saving searches for topics you are interested in. When you click on one of your sparks topics, you’ll see fresh new content which Google hope you’ll be interested in, and which you may want to share with your circles. This is different to simply doing a Google search for your topic – the algorithm Google are using in Sparks is always trying to find the newest stuff for you.
If you want to see some of these things in action there are some excellent videos on the Google blog.
So the big question everyone is asking is “should Twitter, Facebook or both be worried?”. Well, technically Google+ is an extremely good social network, and I’d love to see it do well. But here’s the thing about social networks – they only take off once a “critical mass” of people is using them, and if they don’t attract the people, no amount of technical brilliance is going to make them succeed. I knew Facebook had made it when my Mum signed up, and she signed up because lots of other members of her family were there already. She won’t start using Google+ until there’s a lot of those family members (or different ones) using the system. And only time will tell if that’s going to happen.
If you want to connect with me on Google+ I’m there as geekmummy. I do have some invites available at the moment, so if you’d like to join me let me know your email address either by leaving me a message here or via my contact form. I’m not shutting down my Twitter or Facebook accounts just yet though.